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Arts Festival Review: Sacred Monsters

Arts Festival Review: Sacred Monsters

Sacred Monsters
Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan
St James Theatre
7 & 8 March, 8pm.

The theatre is full and hushed. My denim-clad neighbor whispers to his partner - "Is it true that you have to understand dance to be able to appreciate it?" I sit, shrouded in ignorance, hoping this is not so.

The curtain rises on a stage set with descending swathes of grey papier-mâché. This could be a landscape - lunar, desert, arctic - or it could be a concrete jungle. The two dancers, Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem stand motionless, and the air resonates with the sound of percussion, strings and the voice of Juliette van Peteghem.

The term 'Sacred Monsters' was first used in France in the 19th century as a nickname for the stars of the theatre. This show is defined in the program notes as the 'meeting and exchange' of two stars of the present-day dance world, Khan and Guillem. Each lives with the privileges and the expectations that stardom confers. The term sacred monsters is extended to include other precious demons including children and childhood, the rigors of classical dance training, and the blue-faced, curly-headed Krishna, all of whom feature during the evening.

Each dancer first demonstrated the constraints (symbolized by shackles in the case of Guillem, jangling anklets for Khan) of their classical training.

Guillem moved into a solo, choreographed by Lin Hwai-Min, of breathtaking beauty, demonstrating what boundaries a classically trained ballerina of exceptional ability can transcend with ease.

Khan, trained in the Kathak dance tradition of India, took us on a journey firstly grounded in his rigid classical medium, moving throughout to unfettered joy and passion.

The pair danced together in sequences that invoked the innocence of children in the playground, the rivalry of old combatants, and the grace and mutual support of two superb practitioners seeking to build more than the sum of their individual skills.

A penultimate duet saw Guillet wrapped around Khan, their four arms invoking the deities of India, dancing with the beauty of a flower unfolding, watching its own reflection in a still pond.

The end of the show saw the two of them miming skipping, with the joy and innocence of Sally from Schultz's 'Charlie Brown'.

The capacity audience rose to give them a standing ovation. My own appreciation was unbounded.


Sacred Monsters on the Arts Festival website
Scoop Full Coverage: Arts Festival 2008

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